Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Pauline Foures



Those of you who have been kind enough to follow the progress of this project may be interested to know that a major film company has expressed an interest in 'Napoleon's Little Cleopatra'

Pauline Foures

Following telephone discussions in Paris I have now submitted a revised Treatment for their consideration. I have no idea if they will like it but fingers crossed! Meanwhile.....

Ingres - The Turkish Bath (1862)
This novel tells the story of a young woman from Carcassonne (South West France) who marries an officer in Napoleon's army
When he is posted to Egypt, he smuggles his new wife on board ship disguised as a French cavalry officer. In Cairo - and now revealed as a beautiful young woman - she catches the eye of Napoleon and becomes his mistress - his very own, little 'Cleopatra'.

Meanwhile, Napoleon's wife - Josephine - is having her own secret relationship with a French cavalry office back in Paris! However, should Pauline fall pregnant and give Napoleon the heir he badly wants, then Josephine's days are numbered and their marriage clearly doomed.

High drama indeed. No wonder Josephine starts to take an interest in her husband's new lover.

This is a true story. 

The girl's name is Pauline Foures and she was a trainee milliner in Carcassonne - the town in the south-west corner of France where I have been living for the last four years
Thus far I have written 40,000 words but I am at that stage that most writers will recognize when I cannot progress

It's not exactly writer's 'block' but a sense that I have not yet subsumed my extensive research in such a way that I can reconstruct (and invent) my story with the freedom that is necessary for an historical novel

I am currently reading, for example, no less than nine books on Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, some written from an Egyptian perspective. 

It is not an easy task to absorb all that historical data without losing sight of my principal task - to tell Pauline's story effectively 
It is clearly necessary in an historical novel to 'wear your scholarship lightly' - otherwise the story will become just 'one damn fact after another!' - which is how someone once described history!

That is far more difficult than it might seem because you need to balance historical fact against the invented or fictional components of your story in such a way that the history has credibility without impacting too much on the dramatic flow of your story

One way to make some creative progress is to steep yourself in the images of the period; to soak up the atmosphere and to gain some kind of insight into the events of the Egyptian campaign (1798-1801) from contemporary representations - in this case the engravings and paintings of the period

If you have already read my short article on Napoleon as 'spin-doctor' (see my Posting for Tuesday, 10th January) you will spot the dangers here

Most of the pictures shown here were primarily intended as propaganda, devised by Napoleon and his generals for consumption back in France. 

They show, accordingly, Napoleon and his army in an entirely favorable light - contrary to the realities of the catastrophic Egyptian campaign that resulted in plague, famine and inglorious defeat

As a writer, my job is not only to tell Pauline's story but to contextualize that personal narrative within the larger, historical  narrative of the campaign itself - warts and all!

One advantage that I have is that I know Egypt well 
As a schoolboy I lived for a while in Alexandria and Ismalia and have been back to Egypt since then several times
Once, making a film for the BBC, I was arrested and held in an Alexandrian police cell for a few hours - until we bribed our way out! It seems we had been arrested for unwittingly filming 'a military installation'
'What installation?', we asked.'Why', came the reply, 'that tram'
When we protested it was explained to us, with impeccable Oriental logic, that in time of war a tram could be used to transport troops and was, therefore, a 'military installation'

Being a writer - like a general, I guess - is a rather lonely occupation. I cannot, at this stage, tell you when exactly I will resume my writing
For the moment, at least, I am trapped in a kind of creative limbo - anxious to progress but nervous of committing pen to paper. The best I can manage is to tinker with the 40,000 words written so far - crossing a 't' there or dotting an 'i' here. 

Even then I often forget to save the (very) minor changes I have made!

I should add that it is little consolation to read (in Peter Ackroyd's magnificent autobiography) that Charles Dickens often had the same problem!

Not that I am comparing myself with Charles Dickens but it is a kind of comfort to think that even great writers struggle. I guess it comes with the territory.
I will report back to you when the flood gates open (hopefully) and the dramatic tale of Pauline Foures resumes its unsteady progress towards publication..or the big screen! 
Mike Healey

If you are interested in thsi subject, check out my Pinterest Boards where I have collected images of Napoleon in Egypt, Orientalism, Cleopatra, Salome and Salammbo 

Click on the Pinterest icon in the right-hand column of this page for direct access

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